With a marked increase in reported syphilis cases in Wyoming over the past few years, the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) is sharing prevention strategies to help protect residents from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and their serious consequences.
Reginald McClinton, Communicable Disease Unit Surveillance Program manager, reports Wyoming has experienced a 54% increase in reported syphilis cases since 2018. “There were 43 cases in 2018 and 66 cases in 2022. With syphilis, we have a particular concern related to pregnancy.”
Dr. Alexia Harrist, state health officer and state epidemiologist with WDH, said syphilis can be cured with specific antibiotics.
“But, unfortunately, untreated syphilis can sometimes cause major health issues including death in both patients and unborn children,” she said.
“Up to 40 percent of babies born to people with untreated syphilis may be stillborn, or die from the infection as a newborn. We know this is preventable with appropriate testing and treatment,” Harrist said. “Fortunately, we have not had any reports of infant deaths in Wyoming due to this infection in recent years.”
McClinton noted the United States saw a 32 percent increase in syphilis from 2020 to 2021. “Sadly, this resulted in 220 stillbirths and infant deaths across the country,” he said.
Leslie Fowler, Communicable Disease Prevention Program manager with WDH, said sores caused by syphilis also make it easier to transmit and acquire HIV infection.
“One concern we have is a potential increase in co-infections in our state, especially with syphilis and HIV,” she said.
“While sexually transmitted infections sometimes make their presence known through symptoms such as itching, burning, discharge or visible sores, most people have no symptoms. That’s why we always say the only way to know your STI status, for sure, is to get tested,” Fowler said.
Harrist said WDH currently recommends all sexually active individuals get tested for syphilis.
“Individuals may need to get tested frequently depending on personal risk factors to help ensure they are diagnosed early when syphilis is easier to treat,” she said.
“Prenatal care in Wyoming should include testing for STIs, including syphilis, usually at the first visit,” Harrist said. “Repeat syphilis testing should be provided throughout the pregnancy when certain high-risk situations apply,” she said. These conditions include if:
- Patient or partner have other sexual partners
- Use of injection or intranasal drugs
- Unprofessional or homemade tattoos or piercings
Having sex without a condom, multiple sex partners, anonymous sex partners or injection drug use are risks connected with the recent increase in syphilis. Prevention strategies aimed at syphilis and other STIs include:
- Abstaining from all types of sexual contact
- Getting tested before starting a new sexual relationship
- Before having sexual contact, asking potential sexual partners if they have been tested since their last sexual partner
- Consistent and correct condom use with sexual contact
- Limiting the number of sexual partners
- Routine testing for STIs and HIV
WDH offers detailed STI information, free condom resources and locations, low or no-cost testing, at-home testing options and STI treatment through the www.KnoWyo.org website.
Wyoming’s specific STI testing recommendations are based on risk and can be found online at ttps://health.wyo.gov/publichealth/communicable-disease-unit/sexually-transmitted-disease/health-professional-resources/.